World’s biggest pandemic threat revealed by World Health Organization chiefs… but there’s one giant missing

World's biggest pandemic threat revealed by World Health Organization chiefs... but there's one giant missing

Covid will no longer be considered a public health emergency, consigning the dark days of the crisis to history.

But concerned scientists fear the next pandemic is lurking just around the corner.

World Health Organization (WHO) chiefs are keeping a close eye on the nine pathogens that pose the most ‘urgent’ threats to humanity. All of them are being urgently researched to find tests, treatments and vaccines.

But officials have ruled out one key threat — bird flu.

This comes despite the largest-ever outbreak of avian influenza currently sweeping the globe, sparking fears that it could soon jump to humans.

In 2018, WHO identified nine priority diseases (listed) as posing the greatest risk to public health. They were considered the most vulnerable because of lack of treatment or their ability to cause epidemics

Although it is not currently known to be easily transmitted to humans, mutations in the virus that make it easier to transmit from mammal to mammal could change it, some experts fear.

British scientists have also modeled the worst-case scenario under which the virus infects one in 20 people, if it ever breaks out in humans.

Officials said the figure was ‘for planning purposes’ and not a prediction.

The list of ‘priority diseases’ on the WHO’s website states: ‘This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it indicate potential causes of the next epidemic.

‘WHO reviews and updates this list as necessary, and procedures change.’

Professor Francois Balloux, an infectious disease specialist at University College London, told MailOnline: ‘I don’t know why they decided to leave flu and bird flu off the list.

‘However we look at it, influenza lineages are more likely to cause the next pandemic.’

He added: ‘One possibility could be that they wanted to draw attention to some less well-known zoonotic threat, for which preparedness should be increased, whereas flu panics are planned.

‘The problem with this interpretation is that it doesn’t fit SARS-CoV-2 on the list.’

Dr Simon Clarke, an infectious disease specialist at Reading University, told MailOnline: ‘The WHO does not explain why it does what it does on its list of potential pandemic pathogens.

‘But the list only contains things we know already exist. We do not yet have a derivative of avian flu that can pass from person to person.

‘Unless and until we do that, listing it as an imminent threat is probably unwise.

‘It’s entirely possible that we’ll get such a mutant virus at some point, but it’s not guaranteed and if we don’t there’s no guarantee that it will be particularly lethal.’


Covid has brought the world to a standstill in 2020.

Known for respiratory symptoms, the main symptoms of infection include a dry cough, shortness of breath, fever and loss of taste or smell.

During the first wave of the virus, when societies were forced to shelter in place, real-world data suggested that it killed one in 100 people infected.

The virus attacks the lungs and as the body fights to kill the infection, experts say it can destroy lung tissue and cause inflammation.

This can lead to pneumonia — where the lungs fill with fluid, making it difficult to breathe.

But these symptoms can also limit the supply of oxygen to the blood, which can cause a variety of other problems that can lead to death.

An analysis of official data by the University of Oxford found that the ‘infectious death rate’ has fallen almost 30-fold since the start of the pandemic due to a combination of vaccines and naturally acquired protection from previous infections.

Earlier this month, the WHO announced that Covid is no longer a public health emergency of international concern.

Instead, the virus is now considered an ‘established and ongoing health problem’.

However, experts have repeatedly warned that more infectious or lethal variants may emerge.

And while downgrading the Covid threat level this month, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the emergency could be reissued if the situation changes.

MVD has a mortality rate of up to 88 percent. There is currently no vaccine or treatment approved to treat the virus

CCHF, a tick-borne virus, has a mortality rate of up to 40 percent and causes Ebola-like symptoms, according to the World Health Organization. Yesterday, Namibia’s Ministry of Health revealed that one person had died of the disease, putting the country on high alert

Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever

Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is a tick-borne virus that can prove fatal in up to 40 percent of cases.

Humans can also become infected after coming in contact with the blood or tissue of infected livestock.

It can spread to humans through bodily fluids or to hospital patients if medical equipment is not properly sterilized.

The disease shares symptoms similar to Ebola at the onset of infection, including muscle pain, abdominal pain, a sore throat and vomiting.

It can usually cause bleeding from the nose or from broken capillaries in the eyes and skin.

Other symptoms of the virus, which come on suddenly, include fever, dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, back pain, headache, eye pain and sensitivity to light.

The WHO warns that CCHP outbreaks are a ‘threat to public health services’ and ‘potential for outbreaks in hospitals and health facilities’.

Yesterday, Namibia’s Ministry of Health revealed that one person had died of the disease, putting the country on high alert.

Officials have deployed an emergency health committee, while 27 known contacts have been identified so far.

This is the seventh time in seven years that the pathogen has been seen in Namibia.

Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease

Ebola, which kills about half of those it infects, also made the list alongside Marburg.

Both are hemorrhagic fevers – where organs and blood vessels are damaged, causing bleeding internally or from the eyes, mouth and ears.

These viruses can be spread by touching or handling the bodily fluids of an infected person, contaminated objects, or infected wild animals.

Ebola causes vomiting, diarrhea, rash, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and bleeding from multiple orifices.

Marburg, one of the deadliest pathogens ever discovered, with a case-fatality ratio of 88 percent, also causes symptoms similar to Ebola.

Infected patients become ‘ghost-like’, often developing deep-set eyes and expressionless faces. It is usually accompanied by bleeding from the orifices.

Earlier this year, both Equatorial Guinea and the United Republic of Tanzania were hit by increases in the untreatable virus.

The outbreak had seen 17 laboratory-confirmed cases and 12 deaths in Equatorial Guinea as of May 17, with neighboring Cameroon and Gabon restricting movement across their borders due to infection concerns.

As of April 30, Tanzania had recorded nine cases and six deaths.

Lassa fever

The rat-borne disease is thought to cause no symptoms in 80 percent of patients and kills only one percent of those infected.

People usually get Lassa fever after coming into contact with food or household items contaminated with the urine or feces of infected rats.

But the virus, which can cause vaginal bleeding and cramps in women, can also be spread through bodily fluids.

Lassa fever is endemic to Nigeria and other countries along the west coast of Africa, including Liberia and Guinea.

Last year, a man in Bedfordshire died from the disease.

The unidentified man is the third member of a family who recently returned to the UK from West Africa after contracting the virus.

A total of 11 cases of Lassa fever have been identified in the UK. The three infections identified in eastern England last year were the first since 2009.

Earlier this year, Equatorial Guinea and the United Republic of Tanzania were both affected by Marburg virus outbreaks. The outbreak had seen 17 laboratory-confirmed cases and 12 deaths in Equatorial Guinea as of May 17, with neighboring Cameroon and Gabon restricting movement across their borders due to concerns about contagion.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS), also known as camel flu, is a rare but serious respiratory illness.

Only five cases of MERS have been recorded in Britain, most recently in August 2018 in a traveler from the Middle East.

Camels are believed to be the natural host of the virus, which is a member of the same family of viruses behind the Covid pandemic.

Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea and vomiting.

Meanwhile, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory disease caused by a SARS-related coronavirus.

It is an earlier, more deadly cousin of SARS-CoV-2, now commonly known as Covid, which first emerged in China in 2002.

Nipah and henipaviral diseases

The incurable virus can be contracted from pigs or by people eating fruit or drinking palm wine contaminated by infected bats. It can also be transmitted between humans.

Nipah has killed more than 260 people in Malaysia, Bangladesh and India over the past 20 years, according to the World Health Organization.

The first known outbreak, in Malaysia in 1998, killed more than 100 people after contracting the disease from infected pigs.

Nipah symptoms – which can include fever, headache, drowsiness and confusion – usually appear between five and 14 days after contracting the virus and can last up to two weeks.

However, in severe cases people can go into a coma within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, and some people have difficulty breathing.

There is no treatment for the virus so people seek supportive care to try to relieve their symptoms.

Rift Valley Fever

Rift Valley Fever (RVF) is a viral disease commonly seen in domestic animals in sub-Saharan Africa, including cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats and camels.

People can get RVF through the blood, body fluids, or tissues of infected animals or through the bite of an infected mosquito.

Most people infected with RVF experience either no symptoms or a mild cold-like illness with fever, weakness, back pain, and dizziness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, about one in ten people with RVF can develop serious symptoms, including eye disease, excessive bleeding or even encephalitis — swelling of the brain.

It does not knowingly transmit to humans.

Zika virus is a flavivirus – a type of RNA virus – transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected female mosquito.


Zika virus is a flavivirus – a type of RNA virus – transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected female mosquito.

Rarely, it can be transmitted through sex with someone who has it, says the NHS.

For most people, the infection is mild and harmless. But it can cause problems for pregnant women.

The first recorded outbreak of Zika virus disease was reported in Yap Island – Federated States of Micronesia – in 2007.

But outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.

The mosquito-borne virus sparked global panic in 2016, after millions were infected, causing many babies to be born with birth defects such as microcephaly.

Yet more than 80 countries have faced Zika outbreaks since 2016.

Common symptoms include high temperature, headache, sore, red eyes, swollen joints and joint and muscle pain.

‘Disease X’

Disease X, which first appeared on the WHO list in 2018, represents a hypothetical, currently unknown pathogen.

The UN agency adopted the placeholder name to ensure that their plans were flexible enough to adapt to a disease.

The WHO said: ‘Disease X represents the realization that a serious international pandemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown as a cause of human disease.

‘And so the R&D Blueprint clearly seeks to enable cross-cutting R&D preparation that is as far as possible also relevant to an unknown “Disease X”.’


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